With music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and a book by Terrence McNally, Ragtime opens at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, a brand new $22.5 million theatre built on the formerly blighted West 42nd Street expressly for this production. It stands on the site of two classic Broadway houses, the Lyric and the Apollo, which were demolished, but architectural details of which were incorporated into the new theatre.
Based on the novel of the same name by E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime has undergone a two-year gestation under the auspices of Toronto theatre mogul Garth Drabinsky of Livent Ltd., opening in Toronto in Dec. 1996 and then in Los Angeles in June 1997, winning top theatre awards in both cities.
Playbill On-Line has traced the show's development since 1995. Here are a few of the stories we're posted with more details on the show:
Ragtime is directed by Tony winner Frank Galati (The Grapes of Wrath) of Chicago. Choreography is by Graciela Daniele, who staged Ahrens & Flaherty's Broadway musical Once on This Island. Ahrens & Flaherty also wrote My Favorite Year and Lucky Stiff for the stage, and the score for the animated film Anastasia, which opened in November 1997.
Librettist McNally wrote Love! Valour! Compassion!, Master Class, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Lisbon Traviata and many other plays. Like the novel, his book mixes fictional characters and historical ones in telling the story of Coalhouse Walker Jr., a black man who buys a Model T Ford, setting off a chain of events that involve the highest and lowest levels of New York City society -- along with magician Harry Houdini, industrialist Henry Ford, celebrity Evelyn Nesbit, black leader Booker T. Washington, architect Sanford White, revolutionary Emma Goldman, Admiral Peary, a Latvian immigrant who becomes a movie director, and a not-so-quiet family in suburban New Rochelle, N.Y. All are characters in the sweeping musical.
The Broadway production features nearly the entire original Toronto cast, including two-time Tony-winner Audra McDonald (Carousel and Master Class) as Sarah, Brian Stokes Mitchell as Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Marin Mazzie as Mother. Mitchell starred in Ragtime's U.S. premiere in Los Angeles, as well as in McNally's Kiss, which was produced by Livent. McDonald won a Tony for her appearance in McNally's Master Class. Mazzie appeared in Stephen Sondheim's Passion.
The Broadway production also will feature stars Mark Jacoby (Livent's Show Boat) as Father, Steven Sutcliffe as Mother's Younger Brother, Peter Friedman as Tateh, Judy Kaye as Emma Goldman, Jim Corti as Harry Houdini, Lynette Perry (Grand Hotel) as Evelyn Nesbit, Tommy Hollis as Booker T. Washington, Larry Daggett as Henry Ford.
Many of these voices can be heard on a "Songs of Ragtime" recording released in 1996. Not all the songs from that CD will be heard on Broadway; "Showbiz" has been cut. However, many other songs in the show are not on the recording, but are expected to be heard on a Broadway cast album that will be released April 7, 1998. A booklet of sheet music from the show has also been published.
The 32-song score includes "Wheels of a Dream," "Gliding," "Back To Before," "Sarah Brown Eyes," "Buffalo Nickel Photoplay Inc.," "Crime of the Century," "Make Them Hear You" and the title number.
The production also carries Broadway ticket prices to new highs. Regular orchestra seats will cost $76, one dollar higher than the current top of $75 at some shows on Saturday nights. However, new VIP seating, which gives the ticket holder special services and privileges, go for $125. Tickets in other parts of the theatre and other nights range as low as $31. Tickets for the Broadway production are on sale at (212) 307-4100.
The $125 "VIP Suite Service" gets the buyer a center orchestra seat, a souvenir program, private washroom facilities, complementary beverages, coat and parcel check, a light snack, and access to a special VIP suite in the theatre's basement.
Mary Bryant, spokesperson for Canada-based producer, Livent Inc., said 50 of the VIP tickets will be available at each performance. Those looking for a bargain can get the VIP Suite Service for $115 per person at Wednesday matinees. This VIP Suite service (available Dec. 26-May 3, 1998) has already been instituted by Livent at Toronto's Pantages Theatre and other Canadian venues.
The VIP Suite Service tickets recall the private suites becoming available at many sports arenas, though no special booths for the actual seats at Livent's 42nd Street Ford Performing Arts Center are proposed.
Bryant said 50 cents of the extra dollar goes to the 42nd Street Development Project and 50 cents goes "to keep the theatre up." Radio City Music Hall instituted a similar $1 surcharge during the 1996-97 season.
The Los Angeles production is continuing its open run; Colorado's Denver Center Theatre has announced a six week engagement of Ragtime for August 1998. A Livent spokesperson called the Denver announcement "premature" and said he wasn't sure what tour plans were for the show. He did say the Denver mounting would most likely not be the L.A. production, but a new company. A production reportedly is also being prepared for London.